Black and Jewish Relations

The history of the relationship between the Black and Jewish communities in the U.S. is complex, with ups and downs that often mirror America’s own turbulent and troubled legacy of slavery and discrimination. What are the historical roots behind the cooperation and the conflict today? We explore the history of Black-Jewish relations to uncover the good and the bad, the things the communities have in common, and what inspires a vision for a brighter future. After watching the video, use the prompts below to learn more and get your students thinking.

  1. How did some Yiddish newspapers refer to violent attacks on Black Americans like the Tulsa Massacre?
    • Pogroms
    • Shoa (Holocaust)
    • Expulsion
    • Churban (destruction)
  2. What event led to the cooperation between the Jewish and Black American communities?
    • The civil rights movement of the 60s
    • Shared suffering
    • The rise of the Nazi party in Germany
    • World War Two
  3. True or false? Jews made up at least 30% of non-Black freedom riders.
  4. What was known as the golden period of Black-Jewish relations?
    • 1990s
    • 1930s
    • 1970s-1980s
    • 1950s-1960s
  5. Name two Jews who were close friends with Martin Luther King Jr and advocated for equal rights for Black Americans.
  1. Watch MLK’s close friend Rabbi Joachim Prinz’s speech from the iconic March on Washington in 1963. What is Rabbi Prinz’s lesson? Do you think it’s a model for Black-Jewish relations today?
  2. Recently, over 170 American celebrities launched the Black-Jewish Entertainment Alliance to unite both communities in the fight against hate and racism. One of the members, Markell Casey, senior director of Pulse Music Group, said he believes that healing will come by inviting “each other into our spaces so we can share and understand each other’s journeys: Our pains, our successes, our struggles, our triumphs. And an understanding of our histories.” What do you think is the best way to unite both communities?
  3. Did you learn anything surprising in this video about Black-Jewish relations? What surprised you the most and why?
  4. Jewish concern for the struggles of Black Americans changed as Eastern European Jewish immigrants as well as southern Black migrants encountered each other in northern cities. This group of Jews was much more sensitive to the racial violence Black Americans were facing due to their own history of persecution in Europe. In many cities, the majority of Communist party members were Eastern European Jews or African Americans. How do you explain this? Why do you think these two minority groups were over proportionately attracted to the ideology of Communism?
  5. How can Jewish communities support Black communities and work to understand their experiences and how can Jewish communities help support Jewish people of color in our own communities?
  6. In an encounter between the Lubavitcher Rebbe and New York City’s first Black mayor David Dinkins in the early 1990’s, the Rebbe told Mayor Dinkins:

    “I hope that in the near future, the ‘melting pot’ of America will be so active that it will not be necessary to underline every time when speaking of others, ‘They are Negro’ or ‘They are White’ or ‘They are Hispanic,’ because they are no different. All of them are created by the same God and created for the same purpose, to add to all good things around them.”
    Do you think this is the right message? If so, how can this message be applied to public policy today?
  1. In the summer of 2020, over 600 Jewish organizations representing the majority of American Jewry signed a letter in support of the Black Lives Matter movement that was published in a full page ad in the New York Times. In the letter it said “we know that freedom and safety for any of us depends on the freedom and safety of all of us.” Write a reflection base on this quote that includes references to Black-Jewish relations as well as other historical events.
  2. Watch our video about MLK’s Jewish Connection and utilize the accompanying educational resources.
  3. There are many questions surrounding Jewish identity in the context of race. Are Jews white or not? Do Jews pass as white people? Read the following article written by Israeli writer Hen Mazzig about Jews of color. Also, watch this video by Israel and Jewish activist Rudy Rochman titled “Are Jews white?” Afterwards, discuss the questions above.
  4. Professor Marc Dollinger, a historian at San Francisco State University recently got into a spat with his publisher, Brandeis University Press over how he wrote about American Jews and white supremacy. Dollinger wrote that suburban white Jews were increasingly recognizing how their upward mobility had “reinforced elements of white supremacy in their own lived experience.” Jonathan Sarna, an American Jewish history professor at Brandeis responded by arguing that “implicating American Jews of “white supremacy” gives disproportionate weight to the role of racism in their success” and is “not only wrong, but deeply hurtful.” Where do you stand amidst this debate? Does it make you feel uncomfortable or offended? Discuss.

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